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The Athens Jewish Film Festival Is an Eye-Opening Event

It would almost be easier to draft a list of famous directors who are not Jewish. From Woody Allen to Billy Wilder, from Stanley Kubrick to Joel Coen to Paul Newman, there is a rich history there. Wait—Paul Newman is Jewish?! (Cue Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song.”)

Many people are surprised when they realize how many Jews have contributed to film, literature and other art forms. Playwright Eve Ensler, creator of The Vagina Monologues, once wrote, “I grew up in a tradition where having ideas and contributing to the community and creating art that had an impact on the world mattered. That’s part of the Jewish tradition.”

Over the past decade or so, there has been an emergence of a number of Jewish film festivals, one of which is based in Athens. The Athens Jewish Film Festival, now in its ninth year, will take place Saturday, Mar. 18–Tuesday, Mar. 21. Nine films, a number of shorts and two special events will celebrate the Jewish experience. Comedies, dramas and documentaries will explore a variety of themes and subjects, including love, loss, sports, politics, the Holocaust, overcoming the odds—and your well-meaning Jewish family.

(Before we proceed any further, a disclaimer: In further evidence that Athens is indeed the Fisher-Price town some of us remember from our childhood, this writer is currently serving on the festival’s board.)

Abraham Tesser, while no longer directly involved in the festival, was its original founder. “The festival,” he says, ”was an Athens-area community effort from the beginning. [My wife] Carmen and I had been reviewing movies for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Athens has a diverse and a culturally curious population. It occurred to us that this community might be interested in a Jewish film festival as well.”

“Man plans, and God laughs” is an old Yiddish proverb (later lifted by Woody Allen). Tesser began moving forward with the festival just as the recession hit. In spite of this, the money came in.

Longtime festival supporter Angela Meltzer helped Tesser get the Athens JFF off the ground. “Like any new, exciting venture,” Meltzer says, “you need lots of support from local businesses, and Athens came through in a big way… The Jewish Film Festival affords us not only entertainment, but more significantly exposure to cultural and historic experiences that we may not all be familiar or comfortable with.”

The festival continues to grow. Many volunteers screen hundreds of films in preparation. Special events occur throughout the year; the festival hosts screenings and brings in speakers on topics like racism. But the culminating event happens in March.

Athens JFF President Ron Zell says, “We are trying something completely new this year in an attempt to broaden our audience. After our opening movie, Moos, at Ciné, we are having an opening celebration with a local DJ at Hotel Indigo. The event will be reasonably priced, so that younger movie enthusiasts can attend.” The DJ is Andrew Byrd, and appetizers by home.made will add to the evening.

Four films will be screened at Ciné on Sunday, including the family-friendly Abulele, a fantasy in which a 10-year-old boy meets a friendly and ancient monster. Watch On the Map if you like basketball and history, or just want to catch footage of eye candy Moshe Dayan. A Blind Hero and Fire Birds will also be shown.

Monday brings The Kind Words, Fever at Dawn and Peter the Third. Fever at Dawn, described by Athens JFF Vice President Lynn Elmore as “very moving and sweet,” is by filmmaker Péter Gardo and based on love letters between his Holocaust-survivor parents written as they recovered in hospitals in Sweden after the war. Gardo has written a novel from his screenplay with the same name. 

The Athens JFF sponsors a short-film competition each year, and entries come from across the globe. Winners will be announced and screened on Tuesday. With intriguing titles like Jewish Blind Date, how can they not be wildly entertaining?

Following the shorts competition, a closing party will be held. This year, live music will add to the festivities. Here’s hoping that More Popular Than Klaatu, featuring Timi Conley, Bryan Poole, Peter Alvanos and Michael Guthrie, reference the party’s “Star Trek” theme. The festival is encouraging moviegoers to don Trekkie attire, as the closing film is For the Love of Spock

For the Love of Spock is a documentary about Leonard Nimoy made by his son, Adam Nimoy. Nimoy has created a candid yet loving portrait of his father. The film would work sheerly on a kitsch and sentimental level, but goes a little deeper. The stories behind the character entertain. 

So, how did Spock come up with the Vulcan gesture for “Live long and prosper?” Find out at Ciné.

For the complete festival schedule and more information, visit

About This Week’s Flagpole Cover

Leonard Nimoy created his highly logical “Star Trek” character from his own deep understanding of emotion as a student of human behavior. However, Adam Nimoy’s documentary introduces audiences to a father who rarely engaged him emotionally during the height of the actor’s career.

Adam smartly uses their relationship as the throughline for the film, often presenting a development in Leonard’s career immediately followed by its impact on their relationship. The director employs a visual motif reminding the viewer that For the Love of Spock is the Leonard Nimoy experience as filtered through Adam, banishing all possibility of objectivity.

If we hear Leonard reading his book, I Am Spock, or a letter that he wrote to his son, we see Adam lounging on a couch reading the texts. This blunt but effective method, scattered throughout the proceedings, thoroughly grounds the documentary as a son’s story of his father, no matter how many of his father’s colleagues, famous fans or family give their two cents in interviews. [Jon Hogan]